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Parasitic plants: characteristics, types and examples

Although we are used to hearing that plants make their own food thanks to the absorption of nutrients by the roots and the process of photosynthesis with chlorophyll, this is not entirely correct. Although most do, not all vegetables are autotrophs, there are some plants that take advantage of the effort made by other plants to obtain food and survive, such as parasitic plants.

From AgroCorrn we want you to know in depth what parasitic plants are, what types exist and their characteristics. Don’t miss this article to know everything about them!

  1. Parasitic plants: definition and characteristics
  2. Parasitic plant types and examples
  3. Example of a holoparasitic plant: the orobancáceas
  4. Example of a hemiparasitic plant: mistletoes and other species

Parasitic plants: definition and characteristics

To explain the characteristics of parasitic plants , we will start by defining what parasitism is:

What is parasitism

It is important to begin to know well the meaning of parasitism . Parasitism occurs when an animal, plant, fungus, virus or bacterium (the parasite) takes advantage of another living being (host) by extracting from it the food it needs to live.

Definition and characteristics of parasitic plants

Unlike animals, plants are autotrophs , or at least that’s what we’ve been taught, right? Well, the truth is that there are certain cases in which plants do not manufacture their food , at least not completely, that is, they are heterotrophic or partially heterotrophic . This is the case, for example, of parasitic plants.

Lacking chlorophyll, many parasitic plants cannot carry out photosynthesis, which leads them to feed on water and nutrients from other plants. There are many species of parasitic plants, approximately 4,100 species from 19 different families and most have very striking colors and shapes.

In addition to the total or partial lack of chlorophyll, these types of plants have other changes associated with their structure and roots, such as the presence of haustoria, or what is the same, sucking roots that penetrate the host plant and become they connect with its xylem and / or with its phloem (conductive tissues that transport the sap and nutrients and sustain the plant structure).

Parasitic plant types and examples

There is a great diversity of parasitic plants, those that need their host to survive (obligate parasite), those that could live independently of the host (facultative parasite), those that settle on the stems of the parasitized plant (stem parasite) , or those that do the same in the roots (root parasite). However, there are two major groups of parasitic plants, the holoparasites and the hemiparasites , which are defined by their degree of parasitism:


  • Complete parasitism.
  • Absence of photosynthesis.
  • Plants with yellowish colors due to the lack of chlorophyll.
  • Feeding through other living organisms.
  • Examples: the jopo ( Orobanche sp. ), The dodder ( Cuscuta sp, like the capuchin beard plant or Cuscuta epithymum ) and Cytinus sp ., Like Cytinus hypocistis .


  • Partial parasitism.
  • It can carry out photosynthesis .
  • Plants with greenish colors due to the presence of chlorophyll.
  • Food through other living organisms and also by photosynthesis.
  • Examples: mistletoe (Viscum sp) and Thesium sp.

Example of a holoparasitic plant: the orobancáceas

The family of the orobancáceas ( Orobanchaceae ) are parasitic plants without leaves specialized in specific species of plants, such as thyme, ivy or ginesta and that belong to the order of Lamiales. There are more than 200 species of orobancáceas widely distributed geographically, being present in almost all temperate regions of the planet, except the area of ​​South America and some parts of Australia and New Zealand.

In the superficial part of these scaly plants is where the biological phases of the reproductive stage, flowering and the production and dispersal of seeds take place. The rest of the biological activity takes place underground, where they parasitize the roots of the host.

Some examples of parasitic plants that are holoparasites and are within the orobancáceae family are:

  • orobanche ivy;
  • Orobanche nana
  • Orobanche amethystea
  • Orobanche alba
  • Orobanche ballotae
  • Orobanche cernua
  • Orobanche clausonis
  • Orobanche crenata
  • Orobanche foetida Poir. var. foetida
  • Orobanche gracilis
  • Orobanche haenseleri
  • Orobanche latisquama

Another example of a root parasitic plant is Langsdorffia hypogaea , which we can see in the cover image of this article.

Example of a hemiparasitic plant: mistletoes and other species

The mistletoe ( Viscum sp ) is considered one of the parasitic plants of trees , more specifically, a semi-parasitic plant of apple trees, poplars and pines, coming from the family of santataceae, and that can cause great destruction in the extensions of land. Mistletoe, like a plague, devastates wherever it passes and is difficult to eliminate.

At the same time that it photosynthesizes like autotrophic plants, mistletoe also feeds on water and nutrients from the tree to which it adheres. This whitish fruit vegetable is native to Europe, Asia and America and, in addition to being a typical Christmas plant, it is currently used in natural medicine. Finally, it should be noted that there are around 1,300 species of mistletoe on the planet.

Other examples of parasitic plants within hemiparasites are:

  • Arceuthobium oxycedri
  • Bartsia trixago
  • Osyris alba
  • quadripartite osyris
  • Parentucellia latifolia
  • Thesium humifusum

If you want to read more articles similar to Parasitic plants: characteristics, types and examples , we recommend that you enter our Biology category .

Maria Anderson

Hello, I am a blogger specialized in environmental, health and scientific dissemination issues in general. The best way to define myself as a blogger is by reading my texts, so I encourage you to do so. Above all, if you are interested in staying up to date and reflecting on these issues, both on a practical and informative level.

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